Archive for Tuesday, March 31, 1998

STUDY SEEKS WAY TO EASE TRAFFIC LOAD

March 31, 1998

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— Road officials looking for an improved Kansas City-Topeka link launch a $1.28 million study.

So they'll know where and what to build next between here and Kansas City, state highway and turnpike officials have agreed to pay an engineering firm $1.28 million to study the traffic.

``We know we have a lot of traffic load in this area,'' said James Tobaben, planning chief at Kansas Department of Transportation. ``What we're really wanting to do with this major corridor study is see where it's best to spend the money (for highway construction or improvements). That's really the driving force behind doing the study.''

KDOT and the Kansas Turnpike Authority have agreed to split the cost of the study by HDR Engineering Inc. of Kansas City. KTA will pay about $250,000 and KDOT will pay the rest, Tobaben said.

The engineering consultants are expected to begin the study in April and make a final report sometime in the fall of 1999. It will include analysis of where the current corridor traffic comes from and goes, projections of future traffic increases and recommendations for the best way road officials can deal with it.

Among the specific new highway possibilities to be studied:

  • The widening and straightening of U.S. Highway 24 between Tonganoxie and Perry. The road currently is a meandering two-lane that angles south from Tonganoxie to Lawrence before cutting north again to intersect with U.S. Highway 59.

This option already has organized opposition from the Jefferson County Task Force, which includes about 200 residents of Sarcoxie and Rural townships in Jefferson County. The opponents say a new and straighter four-lane road would displace farmers and wildlife and invite urban sprawl. The option is being promoted by a smaller coalition of Leavenworth County business people.

  • Major improvements to Douglas County Road 442, including a direct link with Kansas Highway 10. County Road 442 is commonly known as Stull Road in Douglas County and 45th Street in Shawnee County. Four lanes of K-10 currently link Lawrence with Johnson County and the Interstate 435 Kansas City loop. Efforts to expand K-10 through Lawrence, a still-incomplete project known as the South Lawrence Trafficway, have sparked years of controversy and continuing legal dispute.

Tobaben said he isn't aware of any organization promoting improvements to Douglas County 442 as a major new link between Topeka and Kansas City.

``But it would appear to be a logical alternative to look into as a route between the southern part of Topeka and Kansas City,'' he said.

  • Additional lanes on the Kansas Turnpike, which is a toll road.

Tobaben said the study is meant to consider all those options and any others that the engineers can find for moving traffic better between the rough boundaries of Highway 24 to the north and K-10 to the south, including the possibility of light rail lines for commuters and smart highway technology to monitor, inform and route traffic.

``At this point in the study we don't want to eliminate any alternatives,'' Tobaben said. ``What we want the study to do is look at existing travel patterns and see where we think the growth is going to occur and how that growth can best be handled and what alternatives might help solve the travel demand.''

The $1.2 million cost of the study is justified, he said, because, ``the scope of the service is pretty extensive,'' including computer models of the traffic flow in the corridor.

The engineering firm conducting the study will maintain a toll-free telephone number and an Internet site to encourage public participation and reaction to various components and stages of the study.

Barry Rolle, spokesman for HDR Engineering in Kansas City, said the firm currently is doing similar studies in Texas and Oklahoma and recently completed one for Missouri highway officials, which resulted in construction on a new 15-mile stretch of four-lane highway in a high-growth area near St. Louis.

First step of the study, Rolle said, is a one-day license-plate survey to track the origins and destinations of corridor motorists.

Rolle said it is not a foregone conclusion at this point that the firm will recommend building a new highway.

``We'll consider all modes of transportation,'' he said, ``taking those alternatives through two screenings to identify which is the best. It may be a highway. It may be a combination of highway and mass transit. It may be a new toll facility. At this point it would be pure speculation to try and tell. That's the whole purpose of the study.''

-- Mike Shields' phone message number is 832-7144. His e-mail address is shields@ljworld.com.

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